Temporary shift to Zoom worship

To give our worship team a much-needed break, we are moving our Sunday worship services from YouTube to Zoom on July 19 and 26.

The July 19 service will be led by our Anti-Racism Ministry Team. The Rev. Vicki Kemper will be preaching on July 26.

Unfortunately, because of security issues with Zoom, we are not able to share the link to the services publicly. If you would like to have access to the services, please contact our office administrator at firstchurch_amherst@comcast.net or (413) 253-3456.

Building to Remain Closed; Church to Remain OPEN

Last evening the church’s Re-Church Ministry Team made the difficult but necessary decision to keep our building closed to in-person gatherings at least through Labor Day. We cannot truly love God, one another and our neighbors–the essence of what it means to be the church–if we fail to protect life and health.

We will continue to livestream our Sunday morning worship services on YouTube and to gather virtually on Zoom for meetings, devotions, Youth Group, and community-building, and we are committed to making it possible for more of our members and friends to connect with one another via those online platforms. And we are preparing for the day when we begin to have small and safe in-person gatherings.

We have been busy being the church over these past 11 weeks–reaching out to check on one another, worshipping together while apart, and making lots of decisions about how to care for our larger community and our many neighbors during these challenging times. Stay tuned for some exciting news about some major gifts the church is making to support those in need.

As always, please be in touch by email or phone if you are in need. Meantime, please gather with us on YouTube at First Church Amherst, MA for Sunday morning worship. Music and LiveChat begin at 10:20 a.m.

Sunday Worship on YouTube Starting March 22

So that we can continue to connect spiritually during this time of social distancing, beginning March 22 we will be live-streaming our Sunday worship services on YouTube.

To subscribe to the First Church Amherst, MA YouTube channel, follow the link below. It will take you to a
brief video message from Pastor Vicki. Then click on the “Subscribe” button.

To be notified by email whenever we go live, click on the bell icon to the right of the Subscribe button, and you’re all set!

We look forward to worshipping with you!

In-Person Worship Suspended Through April 5


The Elected Leadership Team and I met last evening by conference call to consider together how best to continue being the church during these challenging times. We made the difficult decision to suspend in-person worship and all in-person gatherings in our building except for the operations of Not Bread Alone through at least April 5. It pains us greatly to do this but we know it is the most loving and responsible action to take for ourselves, our neighbors, and this world that God so loves. We also realize that we may need to extend this time but, to be perfectly honest, we could not bear the thought of not being together on Easter Sunday, and so we have postponed that decision for a couple weeks.

We will be posting information soon about online worship services starting this Sunday, March 22, and how to nurture one another and our community during this time.

The longer the disruption of our normal lives continues (and it’s likely we are just at the beginning), I am aware for myself and as I speak to church members that we are all experiencing multiple forms and layers of loss. Everything from worship to working from home instead of with our students and colleagues, to visiting loved ones in a nursing home or hospital, a steady paycheck, to getting together with our friends, singing with others, running errands, and, in my case, going to rowing practice with my crew friends.

Don’t underestimate the reality of these losses and changes. All loss is real, and all loss must be grieved. Find ways to acknowledge what you’re feeling: tell someone about it, pray or journal about it, and then consider creatively how to make up for that specific loss, how to comfort and feed your soul.

We take our callings as soul- and spirit-nurturers very seriously and, toward that end, Dick and I, with the technical know-how of Holly Howery and the input of several others (please call or email me your ideas!), are working to provide you with an online worship experience. We are still working out the technical details, but we will send another email Friday or Saturday with information about how and when you can connect.

In the meantime, please tell me how I can pray for you and/or if you have joys and concerns you would like to be shared in our online worship. As evidence of my prayers, I will light a candle for you and send a photo of the lit candles on my office coffee table.

There is a joke going around in clergy circles that none of us expected to give up so much for Lent. As with many jokes, there is an element of pain behind it. We all are going through a kind of death; our lives are not what we expect or want them to be right now.

And as Christians we know that death is not the end. Death opens the door to new life. We may not know when that new life will come or what it will look like, but we trust that it will come, and we live accordingly.

I miss you very much. Please take care of yourselves, and please stay in touch.

Love and peace,
Pastor Vicki

In-person worship and other gatherings suspended

As of Saturday, March 14, our building is closed to almost all in-person gatherings through at least Sunday, March 22.

We are being the church by loving our neighbors through social distancing. We want to do everything we can to help contain the coronavirus and protect the most vulnerable among us.

Toward that end, we will not be having in-person worship on Sunday, March 15 or Sunday, March 22. All other meetings are also suspended for now.

The Not Bread Alone soup kitchen is still serving meals under a modified format.

For now, church office hours remain Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. If you need assistance, please call 413-253-3456 during those times.

In an emergency, Rev. Kemper can be reached at 413-835-5433.

Blessings on you and all you love. Please stay safe. We hope to see you soon. God’s peace—

Coronavirus and First Church Amherst

March 12, 2020

Dear ones,

Before we get down to the details of disease prevention and disruptions to our normal routines, can we just grant that these are unsettling times? That acknowledgement feels important to me. But even more important is the awareness that we are in this together, that our community is compassionate and creative, loving and smart, and that God is our refuge and strength.

More than anything, I hope you will know that you are not alone. Whether you are feeling anxious about your chances of contracting COVID-19, stressed out by the steady stream of news and information, or uncertain about what lies ahead, please know that God is with you. Your church is here for you. If you need to stay home, we want to support you. And if developments require us to cancel worship, we will find new ways to take care of one another.

There is no reason to let fear get the best of us. We are the church! We will be sure to follow trusted public health guidelines, and we will take care of one another. We trust that light shines in the darkness and that new and good things can come from the most threatening situations. Meantime, let’s all commit to praying for one another and for every person, family, health care provider, business, institution, and government agency impacted by this virus.

Now, about those details and decision points:

Please know that I and the Elected Leadership Team are in regular consultation with church member Sara Aierstuck, RN, FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner) and Director of Health & Counseling at Hampshire College. Sara has her finger on the pulse of the latest public health guidances around COVID-19 prevention, and she is also aware of the unique role of the church in helping each of us maintain good spiritual and emotional health.

With that in mind, our current plan is to continue to gather for Sunday morning worship, AND to make those gatherings as safe as possible. If public health authorities recommend cancelling all public gatherings, we will suspend in-person worship services until they are deemed safe. Making worship as safe as possible will require the love, intentionality, wisdom, compassion, and care of us all, but with God’s help, Sara’s guidance, our own common sense, and a shared love that is strong and true, I have every confidence that we can do it, and that our shared time together will make us even stronger.

Public safety and compassionate care for one another begins with staying home if you are sick or if you have traveled in an area with high levels of COVID-19 infection in the past 14 days. Please let me know if you are sick or in self-quarantine because of possible exposure to illness so that we can pray for you and consider together how else to support you.

Older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness. If that describes your situation, please make choices to protect your health, and consider staying out of worship services for a while. And please stay in touch so that we can continue to support and pray for one another.

Our worship services will be different in these ways:

*To prevent sharing germs, please practice “social distancing.” Try to sit at least six feet apart from others.

*Passing of the Peace: Let’s get creative! Find ways to pass the peace of Christ that do not involve shaking hands, hugging, or other touching.

*Communion: We will not dip the Bread of Life into the Cup of Blessing. There will be a symbolic cup on the communion table, but we will receive bread only, and the deacons and I will sterilize our hands before sharing the bread (as we did last Sunday).

*Coffee Hour: For now we think it best to offer only coffee, tea, and cold drinks.

If we have to cancel worship:

*We are in the early stages of considering various options for how to do worship at a distance. One option we are exploring is the live-streaming of certain parts of the service. Please let us know (a) if you would like to have the service streamed via your computer or smartphone and, especially if you do not have a computer or smartphone, (b) if you would be interested in gathering with a few others in someone’s home to watch the stream and sing the hymns.

*We will let you know. Given that things are changing day by day, we are preparing to make cancellation information available in several different ways: (1) by email, (2) on the church website, (3) on the church Facebook page, and (4) on the church answering machine.

Above all, let us continue to love and care for one another in this time. Be gentle with yourself and with others. Reach out—to get help and/or to offer help. And may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Love and peace,
Pastor Vicki, Sara Aierstuck, and the Elected Leadership Team

Annual Meeting: February 23

Our Annual Meeting will begin Sunday, February 23 during our normal worship time. This is an experiment aimed at making it easier for more church members to participate in the Annual Meeting. As always, all people are welcome! Just be aware that our worship service will be brief (about half an hour) and will not include some of the normal worship elements (including a sermon). Hope to see you there!

The Season of Lent: For God So Loves the World

Lent at First Church is a season of spiritual renewal, community, dedication, and joy. Please consider making these gatherings and events part of your Lenten discipline:

For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only child that everyone might know real and abundant life. —John 3:16, paraphrased

Years of display at sporting events and other public gatherings have both weaponized and trivialized John 3:16. In fact, it is the best and and most profound news: God loves the world! God loves the world so much that God has given us everything!

Lent is a traditional time of focusing on spiritual renewal. This year let us be so focused on God’s love for us and all the world that we are transformed, renewed, and energized by that Love—for the sake of the world. Each Sunday we’ll focus on a different aspect of God’s love, and each Sunday you are invited to bring an object or other representation of something you love, or something or someone in need of God’s love. Together, we’ll create a Lenten altar in the sanctuary to inspire us throughout the season and beyond.

Come and experience God’s love at these Lenten services and gatherings:

Ash Wednesday, February 26: God Loves a Clean Heart
Ashes to Go at noon in the Chapel, from 1 to 2 at the Black Sheep; service at 7 p.m. in the Sanctuary
Sunday, March 1: God Loves Creation

Wednesday, March 4: Reimagining the Bible: Fresh Takes on Old Stories, 7 p.m.

Sunday, March 8: God Loves Relationship

Sunday, March 15: God Loves the Lowly

Wednesday, March 18: Reimagining the Bible: Fresh Takes on Old Stories, 7 p.m.

Sunday, March 22: God Loves the Lost

Sunday, March 29: God Loves Life

Wednesday, April 1: Reimagining the Bible: Fresh Takes on Old Stories, 7 p.m.

Palm/Passion Sunday, April 5: God Loves the Humble

Maundy Thursday, April 9: God Loves the Hungry

Service of Foot-washing, 5 o’clock
Simple Supper: 6 o’clock
Service of Tenebrae: 7 o’clock

Good Friday, April 10: Community ecumenical service at noon, location TBD

Easter Sunday, April 12: God Loves New Life